Forget making weird heart shapes with your hands Fern Edwards wants to capture the in-jokes and little quirks that make a couple’s relationship theirs. It may seem like a daunting task, but Fern’s start as a wedding photographer was no less formidable. Asked to photograph her mum and step dad’s wedding while still a student at art school, Fern’s candid, intimate photos ended up impressing more than the stilted family portraits taken by a professional photographer.
In the first instalment of our interview with Fern, we talked about capturing those memorable moments, the power of print, and what happened when she took part in a couple’s shoot herself.
Is there anything, in particular, you do to get to know a couple before their wedding day?
Engagement shoots! They are this brilliant way of not just taking some photos but just to hang out with a couple. You get to see them in their own clothes and strip away all of that ‘wedding-i-ness’ just for a few hours.
I always say to the couples that are booking me, I know lots of beautiful places that we can go but if there is somewhere that you feel strongly drawn to let’s definitely go there. For that reason, I’ve done a few shoots at peoples homes. If they’ve built a life together and they’ve built a home together then why not just kill a couple hours, make some tea and have photos laughing on the couch.
At this point, I’m still getting to know them. I’m reading their body language and figuring out whether they’re really touchy-feely people who can’t keep their hands off each other or more aloof and casual. I’ll try to spot their little in-jokes and quirks so I know just the right moment to press the shutter. Also, the verbal prompts I can give them to get the interaction going between the two of them. It helps them to stop thinking, ‘where shall I look?’, ‘what shall we do with our hands?’ and ‘am I facing the right way?’
How do you make them feel at ease?
Well, I’m basically an utter goof. I always tell couples that I know they might feel awkward but I’m one of the most awkward people on the planet. We’re all in this together and let’s just laugh at how ridiculous this is. Because it does feel a little bit ridiculous at first.
When else do you have professional photos taken with your partner in a portrait session in your life? Unless you’re going to get married it’s very rare. It’s a little bit bizarre but you have to go along with it, laugh it off and just roll with it.
They want memories of who came to celebrate with them
The minute you can let your guard down and just accept it for what it is it’s really, really fun. I’ll tell them this at the start. But, then also, to make people feel comfortable around you I think it helps to mirror them and what they’re doing.
If they’re withdrawing I’m not going to get in their face. If they’re being really outgoing and lively I’m not going to be really mousey about it. I want to echo their energy and I just want to reflect what they’re feeling. Then you get this balance and this sort of, mutual understanding.
Is there anything you’d hope for couples to feel when they’re being photographed?
Just enjoy the process because it is such a rare occasion and also enjoy the time with your partner. Take the time to just look at your partner and think about why you’re marrying this person. How did I know that they’re the one for me? You might find yourself asking yourself that on a day to day basis. But, sometimes, you get so caught up in life that until you actually get to your wedding day, it hits you that this is my person.
It does feel a little ridiculous at first. When else do you have professional photos taken with your partner in a portrait session in your life?
To give you a slightly different example, myself and my partner volunteered to model for another photographer who was teaching a workshop about couples photography. They wanted a real couple to photograph instead of models. So I said to my partner that it would be fun and that I’d love to see what it feels like when the shoe’s on the other foot. I twisted his arm and he agreed to it. He knows how much I love my job and how much it would help me understand my job a little bit more.
So we went and I found that I wasn’t exactly learning about the photographer’s style or process. Instead, because he got us focusing on each other so much, it just really made me hone in on my partner. It was nice to take a step back and think about how much I love him. Even though there was a photographer I’d never met taking photos whilst teaching a class of about 15 other people who were also watching and taking photos.
What do you hope to capture about a couple’s story at their wedding?
A lot of people forget because when you see wedding photography online and in magazines it’s just the couple. But, that’s just one piece of the pie. I spend a lot of time in the morning with the bride and I spend a lot of the ceremony concentrating on them, the couple, because they’re exchanging vows and the ceremony happens so quickly. Well, most of the time anyway. [laughter]
And then in the afternoon to be honest so much of it is about friends and guests. What other day are they [the couple] going to have all of these people under one roof together celebrating together? They want memories of who came to celebrate with them.
You never know the weight of a photograph, it’s why its so important to document it authentically.
So, if I can document that for them, that isn’t just via family formals and group shots, then I’ve given them a record of these memories that they can have. Not just portraits of them looking really cool when we’ve whisked away for 20 minutes taking portraits. They’ll print a couple of those. But, the things they’ll want to remember is having a really great drunken chat with one of their old best friends from college or a family member embracing them in a big warm hug and telling them how proud they are.
Just all these little connections and the things that they also weren’t there to witness first hand. Interactions amongst the guests with each other that are really touching that they might not have gotten to see. It’s so rare as a couple that you’ll be able to get to talk to everybody on your wedding day.
I think there’s something special about having something tactile that you can physically hold and keep
It’s important, it’s really important because memories fade so quickly especially in this very, very, digital day and age. We have a relentless amount of information thrown at us all day long. I think in the long run, without trying to sound like a crazy conspiracy theorist, our short-term memory is getting worse and worse.
To have a document of this day, this chapter in their life, where everyone was together printed physically in an album. Imagine going through that in 5 or 10 years time. Because realistically you won’t remember it very clearly even in a couple of years, those memories will start to fade a little bit.
It’s about capturing the couple’s memories with all of their loved ones, not just each other?
I’ve had friends who are wedding photographers talk about how they’ve taken a seemingly standard photograph of somebody hugging someone at the ceremony or an exchange happening between two people that is really genuine, a really great moment that’s happening. In five years time if that person has maybe passed on or something significant has happened in their life, then that photo takes on a whole new meaning.
There have been a few instances where couples have shared those photographs on social media. They might have lost a grandparent for example, and they’ve now got this really genuine photograph of that person or just a really beautiful portrait of that person on that day. It just takes on this whole new significance.
It hasn’t occurred with any of my images yet but it’s a big thing in the wedding photography profession. You never know the weight of a photograph, it’s why it’s so important to document it authentically. You never know how much that’s going to mean to someone. It might not mean so much to them today but in the years to come you just don’t know.
Take the time to just look at your partner and think about why you’re marrying this person. How did I know that they’re the one for me?
Does having a physical object like a printed photograph enhance that memory?
Maybe I’m biased or a bit old fashioned but I think there’s something special about having something tactile that you can physically hold and keep. That will always be timeless. The thing with print is that once you’ve printed something and you’re looking at it you’ll know unless you leave it in bright sunlight, it’s always going to look the way that it’s meant to look. The way it looked when it was delivered.
The things they’ll want to remember is having a really great drunken chat with one of their old best friends from college or a family member embracing them in a big warm hug and telling them how proud they are.
Looking through old photos, the quality of those photos says something about the time they were taken. The ways the photos were processed, the colours and the texture of the print there’s just something you can’t quite put your finger on it. I think when you can physically touch something it brings back memories stronger. A bit like with music and smell. I think it’s something to do with it being tactile.
Looking at those images with others, it becomes an event and another memory in itself.
You’re turning pages and you can smell the ink; it’s something that will never lose its impact. A bit like picking up an old favourite book even if you own a Kindle; there’s something about having a book with a cover, a nostalgic smell or notes you’ve scribbled in the back. Some people might have little notes written on the back of their wedding album. It just gets you right in the feels, I don’t know how else to say it.
Words | Naomi Southwell & Fern Edwards
Images | All images courtesy of Fern Edwards
See more at www.fernedwards.com